The Iowa Caucus Results Mean Everything and Nothing

The ascension of Ted Cruz? Maybe.  The demise of Trump? Potentially.  The rise of Rubio and Bernie? Perhaps.  Or, none of the above.  

The circus that is the Iowa caucus has come to a close leaving behind torn, foot-printed pamphlets, and many a bent-pin button.  The results were only shocking if you thought the Iowa poles were an accurate representation of how the caucus would shake out – which they almost never are.  The night saw a big victory for the Cruz campaign as the candidate won 8 delegates and defeated the second place Trump by over 6,000 votes.  The close, but solid victory was essentially the reverse of what the polls were telling us, as Trump went in as the favorite.  Rubio as predicted came in third, but he treated his bronze finish as a victory, because he was nipping at Trump’s heels all night and yielded the same amount of delegates as The Donald (7).  The evening also saw the legitimizing of the Sanders campaign, which -despite the Clinton campaign claiming victory- essentially tied the former Secretary of State in the closest caucus in recorded history.  The race was so close that at least six counties were exactly tied and needed to be decided by a coin flip (yes, a real, actual, coin flip).

Let’s break down the ramifications along party lines.

The Republicans

Within the GOP, the truth is things are just as uncertain as they were before Iowa.  These results may predict how the primary shakes out moving forward or they might not.  In 1976, Ronald Reagan lost Iowa to Gerald Ford and subsequently the nomination, and in 1980, Reagan lost Iowa again (this time to George H.W. Bush) but went on to win the nomination.  George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa in on his way to the nomination in ’88.  For the following two primaries (1996 & 2000) the winners of Iowa ( Bob Dole and George W. Bush) went on to secure the GOP nomination.  In 2008 John McCain, who went on to win the nomination finished 4th in Iowa, with Mike Huckabee wining the state but losing the primary soundly.  The last primary in 2012 saw Rick Santorum winning Iowa, but losing to Mitt Romney.

So what does it all mean?

Well, again, it can mean everything or nothing.

Since 1976 there has been seven contested Iowa republican caucuses and three times the winner of Iowa has gone on to win the nomination.  That’s a rate of 43%, which is hardly qualifies as a predictor.  So, yes, this could be the beginning of the end for Trump, and it may signal the rise of Cruz or Rubio—or, again, it may not.  Many have deemed the Bush campaign dead and buried, but if he can stick around a while longer, he may be able to build his numbers from scraps as others drop out.  Bush only received 3% of the vote in Iowa, but so did Clinton in 1992, and he won the nomination decisively. New Hampshire and South Carolina will provide a clearer picture of how this thing may shake out.  The GOP field is still massive, as only Huckabee dropped out last night, leaving 10 candidates still in the fray.  As the field thins – the future of the Grand Old Party will become more clear.

The Democrats

And then there were two.  Matin O’Malley, as many thought he would, dropped out of the race last night leaving Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as the lone two democrats left vying for the nomination – which changes nothing.  Six months ago, Iowa was clearly in Clinton’s pocket, but the grass roots Sanders campaign has shown that its influence is infectious and significant.  The numbers seem to be nearly identical with each candidate receiving roughly 50% of the vote and Clinton -as of right now- garnering 3 more delegates for a total of 27.   Now for the dems, Iowa has historically been a slightly better predictor of who the nominee will be, but not by much.  Gore, Kerry and Obama from 2000 through 2008 all won Iowa and went on to secure the nomination.  But prior to that, in 1992, Bill Clinton only won 3% of the vote in Iowa and still won the nom.  McGovern, Carter and Dukakis also lost Iowa but became the democratic nominee.

Since 1972 there has been nine contested democratic primaries, and five times the winner of Iowa has gone on to win the nomination.  That’s a rate of 56% which is better than the GOP’s 43% but still far from a real indicator of success or failure.  Now with the democrats being down to only two candidates, we should know the presumptive nominee sooner than we know the republican nominee.  For Sanders, these first two primaries are huge, because he has been in the mix in Iowa and leading in New Hampshire for some time now.  A tie in Iowa isn’t ideal, but it’s also not really a blow to the Sanders campaign.  However, if he does not win soundly in New Hampshire, -which is conveniently located right next to his home state of Vermont- he’s in big trouble.

So Iowa could mean victory, it could mean defeat or -one more time, with feeling!- it could mean nothing.


by Jesse Mechanic


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